Fine Woodcarvings of Hawaii and the Pacific

by Richard Morgan Howell

Fine Woodcarvings of Hawaii and the Pacific

by Richard Morgan Howell

Wood Carving Art – Explore the History of the Interesting Art of Carving

Wood Carving Art – Explore the History of the Interesting Art of Carving

Posted on November 8, 2022


What is wood carving art? We can see that wood carving artworks are as prevalent and beloved as ever by visiting some of the world’s most prestigious art galleries and auctions. Wood artwork has always piqued the imagination of designers and artists because of its accessibility and relative ease of carving. The evolution of the art of carving closely parallels that of art as a whole over time, from its usage primarily for devotional and religious wood carving sculptures to its metamorphosis into abstract shapes.


The History of Wood Carving Art

From being finely finished and colored to being prized for their organic beauty and texture, wooden sculptures not only took the shapes that artists envisioned but were also valued for their aesthetic appeal.


However, in addition to its basic features, wood artwork was loaded with other cultural and social connotations that influenced how it was utilized.


Wooden sculptures in Western art evolved from being used in profusion and being seen as a material of inferior cultural worth than, say, marble, to being lauded and frequently employed by contemporary artists. Today we will be exploring the history of the art of carving, as well as delving deeper into wood carving examples and wood carving techniques that were employed by artists over the years.


Wood Carving Sculpture in the Middle Ages

Although the practice of creating wood artworks dates back to prehistoric times when wooden sculptures served a specific ceremonial role – the earliest of these wood carving examples is the Shigir Idol, carved approximately 11,000 years ago – we’ll begin with the Middle Ages.


Christianity recognized the use of wood for religious reasons pretty early on, carving crosses and different holy images and saints out of it.


Many of the wood carving sculpture treasures vanished throughout the years owing to their perishability and sensitivity to water, bugs, and fungi. The Middle Ages also limited the number of visual tales that artists could tell, which were mostly decided at religious conferences where dogmas were strictly obeyed and instructions about what was allowed and what was not governed most of the era’s artistic efforts. The Holy Blood Altar, the Gero Crucifix, and the Röttgen Pietà are a few of the many wood carving examples that stand out.


Germany was one of the most productive wood carving art regions, producing several masterpieces. Wood was crafted for rafters, altarpieces, portraiture busts, and reliefs in addition to figures.


Renaissance Wood Carving Art and Beyond

The prevailing tone and comprehension of humans’ place in the larger scheme of things changed from the peripheral to the core, so to speak, with the arrival of the Renaissance. The notion of Uomo Universale, a Universal Man who is the center of the cosmos, was created by Renaissance Humanism and one of its most important thinkers, Leon Battista Alberti.


This concept was immediately accepted by artistic practices, which began to move their attention away from religious themes and toward negative depictions of the human experience.


The popularity of secular portraits and sculptures grew dramatically, but because of the desire to preserve one’s image for posterity, wood was not always the first choice of craftsmen. Nevertheless, the art of carving continued to evolve throughout this period, with Donatello’s wonderfully carved St John the Baptist (1457) in Venice and Penitent Magdalene (1453–1455) surviving today in Florence being two notable examples.


Wood Artwork Classicism

Following the revival of interest in ancient art sparked by Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s books, Classicism arrived with an insatiable appetite for marble. Wood was confined to decoration and design as a result of the trend to copy ancient Greco-Roman sculptures, with Grinling Gibbons’ school of wood carving art in England being one of the most prominent.


Mantelpieces, door panels, and entrances were carved out of wood, and the 18th century saw a rise in the manufacturing of wooden cherub heads. The art of carving was introduced into the curriculum of art schools in various European nations around the turn of the 19th century.


Modern Wood Carving Sculpture

After the liberalization of art genres, which led to the diversification of materials, modern artisans returned to woodwork. Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi, Xawery Dunikowski, Paul Gauguin, Barbara Hepworth, and Louise Nevelson are among the many artists known for their woodworking abilities.


Moore is renowned for his polished wooden sculptures, such as Reclining Figure from 1936; Gauguin followed Tahitian traditional wood carving techniques by making reliefs out of wood, while Nevelson produced assemblages of found wood components.


Cultural Implications of Wood Carving Art

Wood was the main material for many creatives from Oceania, Africa, the Americas, and Australia, in addition to being employed in Western civilizations. Wood is one of the principal vehicles for expression in Aboriginal art, for instance, and the Middle East has a long legacy of woodworking.


Artists employ this material for a variety of reasons, including decorative objectives, and religious or ceremonial reasons, but its usage was misconstrued in the colonial setting as an indication of folkloristic and generally rudimentary cultural levels of people who used it.


While Europe gradually subordinated wood to the realm of ornamental design, other nations interpreted woodworking via folklore and tradition. African masks, which subsequently influenced Picasso and movements like Fauvism and Expressionism, were seen as ceremonial items with little or no aesthetic merit.


Adverse cultural aspects of wood artwork are now part of history, thanks to political and cultural shifts in the latter half of the 20th century and even beyond, and woodcarving is as appreciated, valued, and utilized creative methods as any other. While craftsmen continue to carve wood into magnificent art items, the interest in wood and its quality appears to be great.


Wood Carving Techniques

A specific carving knife is used to carve and pare the timber; a gouge with a curving sharp end is used to make depressions and curves; a specialized gouge is utilized that has a U-shaped edge; a straight-edge chisel is used for lines, and different hammers are utilized to carve the wood.


The sculptor begins by selecting a piece of wood that is suitable for the shape and dimension of his work. 


He next cuts the wood to an approximate form with gouges of various diameters, which he refines with a range of tools such as veiners. After finishing the meticulous work, the sculptor smooths the surfaces with rifflers and rasps, as well as different grades of sandpaper. Finally, he dyes the sculpture with linseed or walnut oil, then paints it with resin, varnish, or wax to enrich and preserve it.


Source: Art In Context 

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